A Changing Climate: Challenges & Examples
The climate crisis is changing the world. Warming waters, sea level rise, and the reduction of carbon emissions are important to communities of all sizes. From modifying waterfront infrastructure to investing in renewable energy, communities are already working at a local scale to tackle a global challenge.
Addressing Affordable Housing
On many Maine islands, there is a shortage of affordable, year-round housing. This includes affordably priced homes for sale and rental units, especially those available for a full year rather than only in off-peak seasons. The effect of this lack of housing is to make attracting and retaining families—and especially the young residents of islands as they become adults—much more difficult. The lack of housing also provides a significant barrier to economic activity. It’s extremely difficult to find qualified applicants for year-round positions (e.g. school teachers or town employees) or even for summer positions (restaurant staff, sternmen for lobster boats, etc.) without affordable, comfortable housing units in which those employees can live. In the long run, an inability to offer quality housing to school teachers and to the young families that provide island schools with new students could be an existential threat to the year-round nature of many of these communities. Recognizing the significance of the problem, several islands have launched organizations to address this issue. They have used a combination of philanthropic donations, state funds, and sweat equity to create housing units appropriate to their communities. But in nearly all cases, there remains a significant need for more housing.
Building Business for Purpose and Profit
For generations, businesses along Maine’s coast have existed solely to provide products and services to local customers, but in recent years they have also come to realize their importance to the fabric of the communities they serve. Driven more, perhaps, by this sense of obligation rather than a desire to simply increase profits, they eventually expand their offerings in other ways to help meet local needs. As community needs shift, the business then shifts.
Several business models that connect purpose and profit are now in practice along the coast of Maine. Cooperatives have long been established as a way to provide a community benefit where a standard business may not be able to survive. More recently, Benefit Corporations (B Corps) have also started to be utilized as a way to blend both purpose and profit to have a positive impact on the environment, employees, and society as a whole. Other businesses have been created to meet a community need while also providing products and services that are sustainable and environmentally focused. Each of these balance profitability with a commitment to community that extends beyond the bottom line.
Connecting Elders with Resources
As anyone with aging parents or grandparents knows, growing older creates challenges for everything from cooking healthy meals and shoveling the steps to remembering medications or taking blood samples. Island residents have the added challenges of long ferry rides and few medical or transportation resources. Many elder islanders end up moving to an assisted living facility on the mainland, removed from their family and lifelong home. However, eldercare services at a variety of levels, from a weekly ride to the grocery store all the way to residential care homes, can enable islanders to age in place, staying close to friends and family in their home community.
Decarbonizing the Working Waterfront
Climate change is an issue for the state of Maine—and for the world at large—but bold leaders across the coast have begun to innovate accordingly in both mitigation and adaptation. The marine sector is one industry leading the efforts to reduce carbon emissions, withstand the impacts of a changing climate, and, in turn, advance the resilience of the coast. Solar arrays, energy efficient systems, and conscientious practices help direct the industry towards environmental, economic, and social sustainability. From boat yards to lobster co-ops, Maine’s working waterfront is home to pioneers that are at the forefront of problem solving and environmental stewardship.
Designating Ocean Spaces
When decision makers are going through the regulatory process (e.g. the designation of ocean spaces for a particular use), it can be difficult to ensure that all stakeholders are being recognized. That means that waterfront communities and their needs are not always being addressed, and this can prove to be a problem—especially when the decision-making process is focused on regulating ocean spaces. New documents and data goldmines like the Northeast Ocean Plan and Northeast Ocean Data Portal are providing invaluable tools for waterfront communities to use to make sure their voices are heard when it matters most.
Enabling Community Leadership
Island and remote coastal communities face many challenges. Decreasing year-round resident populations threaten the diversity of human capital that make isolated communities viable. Limited access to resources, high cost of living, and limited economic opportunities all provide particular challenges as well. However, despite their small populations, volunteer participation is much higher per capita in island communities, indicating a high level of social capital. Critically, a single individual can have a greater impact because the populations are small and invested.
Expanding Broadband Access
Many people in the U.S. take high-speed internet service (broadband) for granted, but it’s a necessity for businesses, community services, and individuals who work from home. Most of Maine’s remote coastal communities and islands don’t have access to fast, reliable internet, which puts these communities on the wrong side of the digital divide and out of contact with customers, clients, and visitors. The lack of broadband negatively affects everyone: businesses, fishermen, students, municipal services, residents, and visitors. Many coastal and island residents are working together to solve this problem by identifying and implementing improvements to infrastructure to support broadband, while raising awareness of the challenge and the ways that broadband can be used to improve business efficiency, workforce development, and quality of life.
Fighting Ticks and Vector-borne Diseases
Although it may be evident that island life often comes with challenges that aren’t experienced on the mainland, one might assume that the danger of ticks and Lyme disease would be universally experienced along the coast of Maine. In actuality, the threat portrays itself with great disparity on Maine’s islands when compared to the mainland. Some islands experience a far more concentrated infestation of infected deer ticks. You are statistically two-and-a-half times as likely to contract Lyme disease on some Maine islands than you are on the mainland of the Midcoast (the mainland region with the highest rates of Lyme). On other islands, however, the threat of Lyme is miniscule or even nonexistent. The geography, ecology, and history of each island creates a different situation for all of the unbridged communities. By that same logic, each island community has grappled with the challenge with varying methods. What has worked for one community may not always work for another, but sharing solutions can often be the quickest route to effective problem solving. Read more to learn about the challenges Lyme disease presents for island communities and the community members on the front lines of the tick conflict.
Lowering Energy Costs
Buy heating fuel in an island community, and you might pay a dollar more per gallon than mainland customers. Electricity prices are similarly high; islands connected to the grid with submarine cables pay high prices due to periodic cable replacements and on-island distribution and maintenance costs. Islands without a cable are often powered by diesel generators, expensive both to fuel and maintain. These same challenges are faced by rural communities in many remote places around North America and beyond. Islanders and others serviced by a small electric co-op face another concern. With only a few hundred (or fewer) customers, set costs like energy generation or transmission, distribution, and maintenance are shared by a small number of consumers. If a large building were suddenly to drop off the grid (which could happen if people pursue individual solutions, like roof-top solar, without community-wide coordination), other users would see an increase in their bills.
Managing Solid Waste
While mainland residents can adopt an 'out of sight, out of mind' approach to their trash, if you live on an island, you know that solid waste removal is neither simple nor invisible. Nor cheap. In the age of plastics, older island methods like burning, backyard dumping, and ocean sinking aren't legal or desirable. Islands present particular challenges when managing solid waste. Finite space, thin topsoil, and the high potential for groundwater contamination preclude the traditional landfill. Federal clean air acts and the risk of fire prevent large-scale burning. Remote locations and erratic ferry schedules mean that transport off the island can be infrequent and expensive. Whether contracting with a nearby city, using private barge, or relying upon volunteers, each island must consider its own particular set of circumstances when developing a sustainable waste management program.
Marketing Marine Products
Revenue from fishing in Maine communities—the actual take-home pay per pound of fish or lobster—has declined in real terms. Meanwhile, species besides lobster have declined precipitously. As a result, though landings of lobster have increased dramatically, the industry has become more dependent on huge catches, which has been described by marine scientists and policymakers as a perilous position for the state to be in. Many fishermen and organizations are looking into small-scale processing and innovative marketing to balance that decline in revenue.
Offering Educational Support
Islands and rural communities can be severely limited in their educational systems. Many islands have very few school children, and often only one or two teachers. Finding the time and resources to provide children with the educational and social experiences they need can be a challenge.
Preparing for Aquaculture
Maine’s seafood economy, steeped in heritage, provides the lifeblood for our rural coastal communities and lives and dies at the complex intersection of environment, policy, community, and economy. To prosper in an increasingly warm and unpredictable world, the sector must innovate. This innovation can come in the form of economic diversification of the marine sector. However, generating successful innovators is most effective when those innovators are properly trained and prepared for the challenges that arise with marine entrepreneurship.
Preparing for Rising Seas
Late in 2017, the U.S. government released a report on climate change that estimates more extreme and damaging weather disaster events and a rise in global sea levels amounting to several inches in the next 15 years and one to four feet – with the possibility of rising even by as much as eight feet – by 2100. Looking to the future, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) identifies the coast of Maine as being particularly vulnerable to storm events and sea level rise. In fact, the coast and islands are already grappling with historic storm damage and coastal flooding.
Providing Sustainable Transportation
Island communities are dependent on transportation to and from the mainland for very simple daily needs as well as extreme circumstances. Most island residents depend on modes of transportation like ferries and air services to bring food, fuel, mail, and other necessities to the island, as well as to transport waste off the island. They also depend on transportation infrastructure to access key mainland services and to transport individuals in emergency situations. Having these services is one of the key factors that allows an island to function as a year-round community. Operating a year-round transportation service can be costly and complicated. When it comes to financial stability, meeting a community’s expectations, and the potential for large amounts of carbon emissions, reliability and sustainability are key. Ownership models vary, but most are structured as one of the following: a state-run entity, a private corporation, a nonprofit, a transit district, or part of the municipality. Almost all of these services to year-round island communities in the United States require some sort of a subsidy to stay in operation. Communities without a year-round transportation service, with a service they are unhappy with, or those facing the closing of their service often wish to identify what other options are available, as well as what benefits and difficulties arise with each.